Item: Granted, the two road ACC defeats to first Notre Dame March 28, then to North Carolina this past Saturday, games played outdoors and in correspondingly contrasting cold and warm weather conditions, exposed some early defensive flaws, missed scoring opportunities, and not taking advantage of winning possession on faceoffs, as late rallies fell short in double overtime and late in the fourth quarter, respectively. However, with a rematch guaranteed against one of those teams, if not both, SU has time on its side.
First of all, let’s face it; Notre Dame and North Carolina are great lacrosse teams this season, talented, experienced, and deep. No shame to losing to either on their home field.
Even though Syracuse has gone a record six seasons now since winning a national title, the longest period going back to the first championship in 1983, both current ACC leaders are building to achieve the Orange’s level that is all about winning multiple championships in different eras. Carolina has been there before winning three times over six years in the early 1980s and another title in 1991, while the Irish have come close twice over the last six seasons, but are still looking for their first championship to cement the program joining the sport’s elite.
That certainly doesn’t make SU’s 17-15 loss to UNC any easier to swallow, not after the Tar Heels lead ballooned to seven goals at one point in the third quarter, turning the ‘Cuse (8-2, 2-2) into looking like one of the teams it was pummeling in the Dome during its strong 7-0 start, before a late comeback got squeezed by the clock and one final great Carolina defensive effort that stripped the ball from attackman Kevin Rice in front of the goal with under a minute to play.
Even a 21-14 faceoff advantage by the much-heralded Ben Williams couldn’t give the Orange enough of an offensive edge because of a combination of missed scoring opportunities against a solid defense, and UNC’s own faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly winning what seemed like the most important draws in the fourth quarter which deactivated SU’s offensive end of the field.
“It’s unfortunate, I think we hit five or six pipes (goal posts) in the beginning of the game,” lamented Orange middie Nicky Galasso, a onetime Tar Heel before transferring north in 2013, after scoring three goals facing his former teammates. “Kieran (Burke) is a great goalie (17 saves), the defense played (tough) schemes, they played us well. Hopefully, we see them again, (and if that happens) I think we’re going to finish those opportunities.”
Assured the No. 3 seed in the April 24-26 ACC Championship in suburban Philadelphia, the Orange will indeed face either North Carolina or Notre Dame at neutral field PPL Park, dependant on the winner between those two teams in a game at South Bend this weekend, but first Syracuse looks to get past its second loss by meeting annual upstate rival Hobart Tuesday in the Dome (7:00 p.m. ET / TWCS-ESPN3), a tricky test before a 10 day break heading into the ACC event.
The Statesmen (7-3) are currently undefeated in the Northeast Conference tied for first place, and if they go on to win the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, could be headed right back to the Dome the evening of May 10 in a first-round NCAA matchup.
“This was a little bump in the road,” Galasso summed up after the UNC defeat. “We’re on to the next one (game).”